Seeds are magic. Hold one in your hand and you might mistake it for a grain of sand, a fleck of dirt, nothing very impressive. Yet a seed is a compact package of nutrients, enzymes and genetic information needed for plant reproduction. With soil, water, sun and a little TLC, in about two weeks (sometimes months or years for wild herbs) a seed will transform into a seedling, or baby plant.
Under a waning Aquarius moon we planted seeds today. Inula helenium, Arcticum lappa, Althea officinalis and Echinacea angustifolia was written on little signs as we prepared rich dark soil for the little guys. A general rule of thumb for seeding is to bury the seed twice as deep as the seed is thick. We scratched the dark earth held in seed trays, dropped in one or two seeds and tamped down. Tamping is the act of securing the seed tightly into the soil by pressing down. Many small seeds like Valerian (Valeriana officionalis) and Maca (Maca peruviana), are so little they can be placed on the surface of the soil, tamped and covered with a thin layer of fine soil.
Many seeds have special needs. To propagate Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) I soaked the berry overnight in cool water. In the morning I separated the seed from the berry’s flesh. To simulate an overwintering, I am storing the seeds in my refrigerator for about 90 days. Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) prefers a cool shaded environment while Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum) enjoys consistent warmth for germination. Almost all seeds want consistent moisture to germinate, so regular watering is crucial.
Plant propagation can occur from a seed, cutting, rhizome or root division. However only a seed provides a new and unique set of genetic information. In this way, seed collection is an important part of a sustainable garden because it provides a strong genetic pool and the security of new plants. Seeds can often be collected from the flower or fruit of a plant in fall and stored in cool, dark conditions until late winter or spring of the next year.
Horizon Herbs is a fantastic source for organic medicinal herb seed. Their website is packed full of information on propagation methods, tips and picture of tiny herb sprouts. So cute!
In a medicine garden seeds are the solution to future dis-ease. The Echinacea we planted today will be harvested for its root in the fall of 2017. There is foresight, excitement and so much potential in seeds. Future blooms, future medicine. As we round the bend of winter, I am sowing seeds in my mind too. It all starts with a seed.
Pictured: Seeds of Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium) and Calendula (Calendula officinalis).
There is a secret spreading across the hills and valleys of this city. It started with the cherry trees. The plums are next. Apples are soon to follow. I get the feeling of great potential this time of year. My mind wonders from one excitement to the next as I thumb pages of seed catalogs.
It feels a bit discouraging to scan the garden. Most of our crops are perennial and thus are still in the midst of a long winter’s nap! With the little rain we got this week oxalis and a wild lily have flushed the garden with an unwanted green and yellow. Echinacea is entirely under ground — easily mistaken as dead to the untrained eye. Mullein appears to have frozen in time, no noticeable growth. Vitex has lost most of her leaves and looks more like a couple of sticks in the ground than a bush. Yet Self-Heal keeps the faith alive, she slowly spreads green runners and leaves across the dark earth. I’m surprised at the array of yellows and oranges from a calendula patch I planted late last summer. I saw a bee today!
It smells like January in the morning when the morning fog sits low and the wind starts to pick up. But where is the rain? The garden tasks are fewer but with a greater impact. I pruned the fruit trees, grape vine and extended the garden beds a bit. The sun makes a low sweep across the sky, leaving much of the garden in full shade.
Slowly the days grow longer but for now I use the sun moving west as a reminder to wrap up work in the garden. I spend a few hours a day on the computer; I am working on a plan to sustain the work I do at Guerrero Street.
These past August days have felt quintessentially like san-francisco-summer. I think of Mark Twain several times a day: as I wake up to fog, bike through fog, watch thicker fog settle in over a foggy evening sky. Powdery mildew sets in to the leaves of sun-loving plants: calendula, mugwort, lemon balm all start to decline.
This weekend Margaretha gave a talk on common medicinal herbs found in San Francisco at Glide Memorial Church in the Tenderloin neighborhood. This community has a history of neglect from the rest of the city, it is not uncommon to see a houseless person shooting up or selling previously used items on the street. Glide Church is known within the community as a haven: a place of music, hot food and many other services, no questions asked, 365 days of the year. There is a garden there, six stories above the street on the roof of the church and adjoining soup kitchen called Graze the Roof. It is possibly the highest garden in the city. Lindsey, the garden steward shared a piece of the church’s morning service with the group gathered in the garden. She spoke of Faith – the verb and the noun: the notion to believe in the divine, as well as something, anything, greater than yourself.
The events on this partly-cloudy afternoon helped me to understand the lack of trust many people have with plants as healers. Divorced from herbal traditions, something all of our ancestors practiced, many of us were born unaware of the power of herbs. Yet at eye level with executive suites and in the midst of the urban hustle, I see as a culture, our faith has been lost. As part of her workshop, Margaretha asked all the attendees to take a moment to sit with a plant — preferably one we did not even know the name of — and explore what we noticed, what came naturally and intuitively. Through inquiry based learning, folks gleaned a calming groundedness from California Poppy, a comforting protection from Mullein and a sense of blissful courage from Borage — all traditional and scientifically proven uses for such plants. We spoke of the doctrine of signatures – the incredible phenomenon that plants display their healing characteristics in their physical presentation. As a fellow urban dweller it was humbling to witness others rebuilding a relationship with the natural world.
It is all too common in industrialized countries that natural, safe and effective herbal choices get brushed aside for allopathic remedies – antibiotics, steroids, synthetics, pharmaceuticals. How radical to teach simple, gentle and free remedies within a neighborhood so affected by economic injustice, racism and the pharmaceutical industry. Alcohol, narcotics and poverty afflict this neighborhood quite harshly, yet with food and faith, Glide has restored a human trait, a value and a passion — a connection to the divine, however we choose to define it. The local weeds on Glide’s rooftop serve as a reminder to keep a Faith: in the plants, in our ability to heal, in the divine Mother Earth, in the cosmos, and to trust, unconditionally, in something greater than ourselves.